Pros: Natural, Fast, tonally rich, deep bass, seductive mids
Cons: i have to save up for them.
I felt extremely priveledged to be included in the first group of people to hear the long awaited and much anticipated release of Audeze's LCD2. Some history: I am not new to planar magnetic technology and have been an avid fan and disciple of planar magnetic headphones ever since I was lured into the murky waters by the vintage yamaha orthodynamic headphones. If not for the keen efforts of wualta on HeadFi, this dream would most likely not have been realised. I first heard about Audeze when a friend and fellow discple of orthodynamic headphones discovered this small company in California, managed to make contact with them and establish that initial dialogue which brought to us the LCD1 and now the LCD2. I really liked the LCD1, it was my first glimpse at what modern planar drivers were capable of. The LCD1 was a top performer and finally offered a modern headphone that had better performance than the venerable Fostex T50vx. It did most things that one would want from a headphone but finally didn't have the ability to reproduce the bass notes with the authority that they deserved. The LCD1 was
always aimed at being a market entry headphone with limited production, as it used an off the shelf foster frame and cup the biggest weaknss for these drivers in the end as they were more than capable of superb performance. The LCD2 is finally here to continue the promise from this dedicated company. An aside on Audeze - they have been very open to guidance from the experience of the headphone community and have worked hard to address most peoples concerns/requests in their development
process. I would be remiss if I did not mention the HE5 from HeadDirect. This is another planar magnetic headphone which made a surprise appearance at CanJam 09 and has garnered much popularity amongst headphiles. I have had the opportunity to hear 2 versions of this headphone, the earliest suffered some congestion on the bass and a peakiness in the upper mids, the later version had cleaned up the bass with some damping but the peak remained and although it was still a very good headphone, it still needed some fine tuning. I have not yet heard the HE5LE but this was version is supposed to address the concerns noted in the HE5.
Back to the LCD2.
Music chain - RED BOOK CD - Yamaha DVD1700(SACD) - highly modified Sonic Frontiers Transdac - direct coupled tube hybrid amplifier with class A mosfet output.
My music preference is vocal/acoustic/jazz/rock/blues/classical
Initial impressions on opening the box were very positive. My review sample did not come in the wooden box but that did not detract from my initial impressions. The black grills against the wood immediately caught my eye , not sure if they had me in mind when they were designing these but they sure had my attention. Weighing in at 1/2kg, these headphones leave you with both visual appeal and a tactile sense of anticipation. The overall engineering is rock solid. Steel sprung headband with metal ratchet type arm adjustments allow for a very sturdy feel. No slipping and no movement once they are positioned where you want them. The foam headband has caused a little stir of dissappointment in the community but make no mistake, they are very comfortable. They do not retain the impression of my sophisticted headphone stand ( a large hand clamp). The cups themselves are solid, lovely wood with a simple finish, as it turns out "Hand selected Caribbean Rosewood". The addition of the mini xlr is a welcome addition and offers an elegant solution to custom cable connectors of many manufacturers. The steel rill is attractive and finishes the overall look of these headphones. Someone described them as "steampunk". The grill trills when you drag a nail over the surface but I cannot hear any resonance concerns with them. They also are able to screw off, allowing the more adventurous to modify and fine tune the sound to their liking. The Pads are substantial and offer great support and seal to create the soundscape that enables notes to be be free and create that ever important soundstage. I was a little concerned about how hard the leather was, but the lambskin do not sweat ( a huge negative of the stock O2 pads ) and they are more comfy than I had anticipated. You are most definitely aware that you are wearing a serious pair of headphones, none of this " I forgot I was even wearing them" but after 3 hours, I still felt comfortable.
I was told that these drivers had only had an hour of play on them and thus I anticipated the need for a little burn in. I naturally could not wait indefinately to hear them and I am not completely sold on the idea of prolonged burn in. To me if it takes 500 hours for a headphone to sound good to you, you have acclimated to the sound signature and learned how to appreciate it. But that is a can of worms for another debate. I had a few hours before I could sit down with them so I put on some white noise and let them warble.
The first night I just sat back and listened to them, I can normally pick up on idiosyncracies pretty quickly with casual listening. Nothing jumped out at me and I thoroughly enjoyed the following 3 hours, would I be a prat to say they had PRaT :).
The next round comprised listening to some white noise, pink noise and frequency sweeps ( stereophile editors choice test CD ) - subjectively there are no peaks, no inconsistencies, white noise is homogenous , it extends both high and low.
An emphasis on impressions - subjective attributes based on personal preferences.
I like my headphones to present a detailed top end with air and delicacy. This is evident in most all recordings. Live recordings sound just that, live. The acoustic space and pinpoint timing of a Jazz band is reflected in the percussion, ensuring a particularly intimate experience. Is it the most detailed ortho I have heard, no, some of my orthos are damped to enhance the top end and moving from such an orthodynamic headphone to the LCD2, the initial reduction in top end energy is noticeable but that feeling is soon replced by a sense of overall balance and enjoyment. I am sure there will be some who
would like a more pronounced top end, this is afterall a selfish hobby which promotes personal preferences but for me, these headphones offer a perfectly balanced sound.
The mids are what particularly stand out for me. They have a rich tonal balance with no loss or emphasis, sound "organic" yet are not boring. They have a richness of tone that very few headphones or speakers redropuce, without sounding "lush". There is no hint of sibilance and will bring even the toughest logger to his knees if he hears xxx (insert favourite female vocalist here) Not many headphones reproduce the lower mids well as many headphones have a low mid upper bass bump - this directly impacts on the baritone and can often paint a muddled picture in this department. I listened to an assortment of recordings which focus on the voice within an acoustic space, I wish I could share this experience with you. Just breathtaking and absolutely natural.
The downfall of so many great orthos - do you leave them slightly underdamped so that the bass throbs with a little less control than would be ideal or do you tighten it up so that the bass is several dB down but very tight and accurate. The LCD2 has no problem here - it just keeps going down. The acoustic bass of YoYoMa's cello on the Appalachian Waltz reverberates with multilayered bass that it transfixed me for the moment. I initially thought I heard some low bass warble but it turned out after much listening and reflection that I was hearing bass notes in the music which had never featured in my experience
of the music before. This was only on one particular electronica piece of music which I don't listen to ferquently but does extend the bass notes pretty low. Bach's Toccata's and Fugues sound vivid, Ulanji's bass drum virtuoso is thunderous and never did I feel the bass was congested or lacked definition. Tha bass is tight, punchy, fast and layered with all the texture of the mids. Does it sound as deep as the venerable TP , no, the TP's feel like they have greater impact but they are also closed and lose some of that depth and layering as a consequence.
I have been modifying vintage orthodynamic headphones for some time and have a good feel for what I am trying to achieve when I start out with any given model. The LCD2 accomplishes many of these objectives and manages to retain an open soundstage without compromising the depth of bass extention or delicacy of treble articulation and the mids are just "to die for". I knew that my time was coming to an end with this pair of headphones and my final wow came when I listened to a piece of
Scottish Folk music recorded by Linnrecords , William Jacksons CorryVrechan. It is a very dramatic piece of music with wide dynamic swings, drums, bass, bagpipes, pennywhistle, just a lovely shamble of music. It was the perfect note to finish my experience as it left me feeling invigorated and so completely convinced that these headphones were a must have for my collection. I for one am convinced that this is the advance in magnetic planar technology that I had hoped it would be.